The Years of Rice and Salt Hardcover – Feb 26 2002
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Award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a thoughtful and powerful examination of cultures and the people who shape them. How might human history be different if 14th-century Europe was utterly wiped out by plague, and Islamic and Buddhist societies emerged as the world's dominant religious and political forces? The Years of Rice and Salt considers this question through the stories of individuals who experience and influence various crucial periods in the seven centuries that follow. The credible alternate history that Robinson constructs becomes the framework for a tapestry of ideas about philosophy, science, theology, and politics.
At the heart of the story are fundamental questions: what is the purpose of life and death? Are we eternal? Do our choices matter? The particular achievement of this book is that it weaves these threads into a story that is both intellectually and emotionally engaging. This is a highly recommended, challenging, and ambitious work. --Roz Genessee
From Publishers Weekly
Having revolutionized the novel of planetary exploration with his Nebula- and Hugo-winning Mars trilogy (Red Mars, etc.), Robinson is attempting to do the same to another genre with this highly realistic and credible alternate history. It's the 14th century, and the Black Death has swept through Europe, killing not 30% or 40% of the population but 99%. With Europeans now no more than a historical curiosity, the empires of China and Islam spread rapidly across the world. India, caught between superpowers, struggles to maintain its independence until, fueled by a scientific renaissance, its forces besiege and conquer the great city that in our world would be called Constantinople. The New World is discovered by the Chinese, who rapidly settle the west coast, while an Islamic fleet lands at the mouth of the Mississippi. Eventually, the enlightened Indian nation of Travancore comes to the aid of the beleaguered native people of the New World. New technologies appear as the centuries go by and, as often as not, are applied to military ends. Adding a mystical balance and a human note to this counterfactual history is a small cast of recurring characters who live through each episode of the book as soldiers, slaves, philosophers and kings. Dying, they spend time in the afterlife, only to be reborn into the next era, generally with no knowledge of their past lives. Robinson, who has previously demonstrated his mastery of alternate history in the classic short story "The Lucky Strike" and his Three Californias sequence, has created a novel of ideas of the best sort, filled to overflowing with philosophy, theology and scientific theory. (Mar. 5)Forecast: The restrained jacket art, not at all typical of SF, suggests the publisher is aiming to attract intelligent mainstream readers as well. Certainly the depiction of how a moderate or even a liberal Islamic state might evolve couldn't be more timely.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Some highlights from the alternate history: (Contains some spoilers for early sections) about 1400, a mutated and incredibly potent version of the black plague wipes out most of Europe, eliminating it as a political or military force. Christianity is eliminated as a civilization, and the later events are dominated by Chense and Islamic culture. Muslims, some of them refugees from mainstream Islam, gradually repopulate Europe. Meanwhile, a Ming expedition, outfitted to invade Japan, gets caught in a strong Eastern current, misses Japan entirely, and winds up in San Francisco Bay. The expedition is still very much a success, especially when it travels South and discovers the rich mines of Peru. A later Chinese fleet succeeds in conquering Japan.
A group of reformist Muslims, chased by more traditional sects, sails west from Normandy and discovers Manhattan. The Iriquois federation, becoming aware of the presence of alien cultures on both the West and East coasts, forms the North American tribes into a great union, capable of keeping the outsiders largely restricted to the coasts and holding the interior of the continent.Read more ›
We experience the altered centuries not through dry narration, nor through the eyes of a streaming cast of unrelated characters. Instead we learn how the East forms history from a handful of individuals who live, die, and are reborn without awareness of their previous lives. Although their circumstances change, core aspects of their personalities persist across lifetimes--as does their connectedness, their chance to interact and influence each other. In each generation we find our recurring characters and see what they must confront and conquer in themselves. From the patterns across lifetimes--and brief group "meetings" between reincarnations--we absorb an Eastern perspective on the great wheel of existence.
Science fiction is at its best when it offers something new--a technological advance, an alien species, an altered history--and explores the implications. This book's offering is a cyclic, Eastern view of existence. It was not invented by the author, but he makes it emotionally accessible to Western readers. The lack of any satisfactory conclusion to the book is unimportant, and even somewhat consistent with this worldview.
You should read this book for the journey, not the destination. Absorb a different view of the purpose of life and what it may mean to make progress as a person. You need not change your philosophy as a result.Read more ›
This book has the same sort of Robinson twist. On the face of it, it is a book dealing with the premise that the Black Death had been a bit more deadly, wiping out Europeans and leaving the world to the Chinese, the Indians and the Arabs, and a few other odds and sods.
Robinson's twist is that the major characters keep on returning every hundred years or so, being reincarnated higher or lower according to their previous lives. This gives a sense of continuity to the grand thousand year epic from Middle Ages to modern times.
Some might find a little more philosophy than they like, but those who enjoyed his Mars books will probably like this one too, as there is about the same amount. It also gives the thoughtful reader something to chew on while progressing through the otherwise straightforward tale.
I enjoyed it, and kept reading to find out what would happen next incarnation. A bit of a quirky classic.
I love historical fiction -- or rather, the idea of historical fiction. Few writers can pull it off. My favorites in the genre are Robert Graves's Claudius books and Marguerite Yourcenar's MEMOIRS OF HADRIAN. Keeping in mind that this is mass-market fiction, my expectations were low. It's not that I can't appreciate a little pulp fiction (I've been known to curl up warmly with the likes of Anne Rice, who has a great historical imagination), or that Robinson hasn't done his research (the novel is quite impressive in historical detail). The problem is that Robinson lacks the imagination to create a truly "other" world.
It for this reason that the earliest chapters of the book are the most successful. Here, Robinson doesn't have to imagine, he can simply insert his characters into the more or less fully developed worlds of medieval China and the dar-al-Islam (comprising Turkey, the Middle East, and central and southeast Asia -- plus the fictional Muslim Europe, which is never fully developed). One can even bear with the predictable way he handles the near simultaneous discovery of the Americas from the "East" and the "West", which draws on recent notorious claims that the Chinese might have visited the Pacific coast of North and South America during the Middle Ages and possibly have influenced the cultures there.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Problems: Loooong novel, and so sweeping that it is very hard to remember the characters and their relationships as you leap along in time. Read morePublished on July 4 2004 by katla
After plowing through slightly over 200 pages, I surrendered. Character after character, generation after generation, there just didn't seem to be much of a point to the... Read morePublished on June 28 2004 by Ray P Robidoux
I don't read fiction very often. I read mostly history, philosophy and liberal-left books on contemporary politics. Read morePublished on June 15 2004 by Michael H Schaefer
Based on available info, I anticipated an interesting alternate history. There may have been one - but it was hidden behind a lot of distracting mumbo-jumbo about previous lives. Read morePublished on June 8 2004
Although I really enjoy KSR's work, The Years of Rice and Salt just didn't do it for me. It is a brilliant idea, but the follow-through was poor at best. Read morePublished on May 17 2004 by R. Dean
The Years of Rice and Salt is a tremendous undertaking, and if Kim Robinson does not take it as far as it can go, so what? This is still a wonderful novel of alternative history. Read morePublished on Feb. 27 2004 by CoffeeGurl
I really enjoyed this novel, which starts with an alternate history setting but combines it with strong characters and an interesting exploration of Buddhist and Isalmic... Read morePublished on Feb. 15 2004 by Nathan Keir Edel
How would the world be different if 99 percent of Europe had been wiped out by the Black Death?
Robinson's answer: It wouldn't. Read more